It’s been four weeks since Hurricane Sandy swept through New York City, and the storm and its aftermath has been our main focus since then. Fare hike hearings have become an afterthought for the MTA as storm clean-up and repairs have become the authority’s top priorities. Monday marked the first MTA Board committee meetings since the storm, and now the costs of the cleanup are coming into focus.
As the Board met — and more on that shortly — Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed the state’s needs with its Congressional delegation. The price tags are steep. Overall, Cuomo believes New York needs $32 billion to recover from the damage inflicted by Sandy, and the MTA’s needs are considerable. Cuomo in a summary (pdf) noted that the MTA needs over $5 billion for repair work. As a comparison, one year of the MTA’s capital plan is also around $5 billion. The damage, clearly, was extensive.
“The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy is of unprecedented proportions, ranking among the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history in terms of loss of life, property damage, and economic impact,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “Today’s meeting with our state’s Congressional delegation builds upon the close cooperation between local, state, and federal partners that has existed throughout Hurricane Sandy and in the storm’s aftermath. Working together, we will rebuild stronger and better than ever before, so New York State is better prepared and has the infrastructure in place to handle future major weather incidents.”
The specifics of the destruction are tough to come by, but some early estimates are leaking out. Thomas Kaplan of The Times tweeted:
This is mind-boggling: the MTA says repairing the South Ferry-Whitehall Street subway station will cost $600 million.
— Thomas Kaplan (@thomaskaplan) November 26, 2012
That’s a mind-boggling figure consider that the new South Ferry-Whitehall Street station opened three years ago and cost $530 million then. Kaplan later said the Governor’s Office confirmed that this line item was simply for the station and not, say, for the damage caused to the Montague St. Tunnel as well. In a statement to me, on Monday afternoon, though, the MTA said they “cannot confirm at this time” that the $600 million figure is a correct or final one. Still, repairs will not be cheap.
Also in Cuomo’s budget was a request for nearly $9 billion in prevention and mitigation investment projects. That’s a comforting request, but it’s probably not enough. During those Monday committee meetings, New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast spoke at length about Transit’s needs and desires. In a PDF, he put forward his agency’s non-exhaustive wishlist for investment improvements. These run the gamut from stair and vent closures to elevator hardening to bladders or floodgates and “pre-engineering and site mobilization for temporary mitigation structures.” At the very least, Transit needs more than three pump trains, power redundancy systems and significant protection for its low-lying depots and vulnerable signal and communications equipment. None of this will be cheap.
Meanwhile, in addition to mitigation costs, the long-term outlook is bleak, and the MTA will have to accelerate its component replacement program. As Prendergast’s presentation noted, “general failure rates are expected to accelerate in system elements that experienced flooding.” These elements include electrical equipment, cable sheathings and even track beds that were inundated with garbage from the storm run-off. It was a mess.
So right now, it’s unclear how much money will flow our way and when. The MTA said on Monday that the R train will soon run to Whitehall and back through the Montague St. Tunnel to Brooklyn. J and Z trains will again reach Broad St. within the next week or two as well. But the outlook for that South Ferry-Whitehall St. station is hazy. The 1 trains will be turning through the old South Ferry loop for the foreseeable future, and the Whitehall St. station won’t take passengers until significant station repairs are completed. The Broad Channel washout too will take months to repair.
With these clean-up efforts under way and the monetary requests in place, we simply play the political waiting game. Despite astronomical cost projections, the MTA has a sense of what it needs to do to protect its infrastructure. Will Congress respond before the next storm hits? That’s a question perhaps better left unanswered as we hope for the best.